We’ve all been there haven’t we. Had a crappy day, feeling stressed, angry, sad or all three. You open the packet of biscuits or tear the lovely foil wrapper from a slab of chocolate or dive into the oversized bag of crisps, aahh relief and distraction… this will make me feel better… I deserve it after the day I’ve had… I’ll only have 2 biscuits/squares/handfuls… sure why not? By now, you’ve polished off the lot. Consciousness catches up. The guilt! Confusion perhaps: why did I just do that?!
The food didn’t relieve the stress, sadness or boredom you wanted it to. Instead, you feel worse and you promise yourself you won’t do this again.
Here are some of the signs that you may be an emotional eater. Do any of these ring true for you?
1. Does your hunger come on suddenly?
Physical hunger comes on slowly. Emotional hunger often comes on quickly and suddenly.
2. Do you crave specific foods?
Generally it’s not carrot sticks or steamed broccoli. Cravings for specific, usually unhealthy foods is a sign of emotional eating. Do you get a rush from satisfying the craving?
3. Does your hunger feel urgent?
I need a particular food NOW and I’m willing to walk out of my way, or get in the car and drive, or raid the kid’s party bags to get it.
4. Do your eating habits involve unconscious eating?
Are you eating ‘just because’ or without hardly tasting the food?
5. Do you stop when you’re full?
Or do you keep on wanting more of the taste of the food? With physical hunger, you don’t need to be stuffed to be satisfied. Emotional hunger however often demands more and more food to feel satisfied.
6. Is it belly hunger?
Or do you crave the taste of a certain food in your mouth or you can’t stop thinking of a certain food. You know the saying, if you’re not hungry enough for an apple, then you’re not hungry.
7. After you satisfy your hunger, do you feel regret or guilt?
Feeding your body what it needs is not something to feel guilty or ashamed. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely that it’s emotional eating.
Well a few of the above points have certainly resonated with me. Yes, I’m a nutritional therapist, but alas, we are all only human at the end of the day. We are emotional beings – complex, unpredictable, complicated. We laugh, cry, rant and rage. We love our food, we can’t do without it, so of course emotions come to the table. So relax… how could we NOT be emotional eaters?
On the other hand, if we get stuck in a cycle of this and are over eating the wrong foods and beating ourselves up about it, it can have a negative effect on our health.
So how do we stop ourselves from this pattern of eating? We could begin by bearing the following in mind.
1. Adopt a healthy relationship with food
Food is not the enemy, I come across many people with nutritional beliefs that are at best unhelpful, at worst harmful. I’m of the viewpoint that foods should never be considered as “syns” or “not allowed”, the terminology alone grates and can lead to obsessing over certain foods. A culture that promotes a perfect body as the ultimate goal helps to create a relationship with food that is punishing rather than nourishing.
2. Recognise that it’s a conditioned response
It’s habit that you eat when stressed/bored/frustrated/disconnected. You simply need to do something different from the day before and repeat it to make a new habit.
3. Tune in
Identify the emotion and the fact that you are over eating or binging because of it. You mightn’t necessarily be able to solve it or even stop yourself (yet) but the very act of recognising this fact will help.
4. Establish replacement behaviours
What could you do the next time you feel frustrated or fed up instead of going to the fridge? Treat yourself to a nice magazine, a soothing and de-stressing Epsom salts bath and an early night perhaps. This is much kinder to your body and will do more to lift your spirits than any junk food will ever do. Or clear out your wardrobe, cut the grass, ring up your friend. Do something, go outside, get fresh, clean air into your lungs, get out of the kitchen.
5. Practice mindful eating
Put the food on a plate, sit down to eat, slow down, taste and savour every mouthful. This encourages a more mindful approach rather than mindless snacking. We may opt for sugar laden foods and drinks because the effects are fairly immediate. We feel momentarily better which of course is followed by the energy slump and with it more cravings and impulsive food choices. Consider if it will bring you towards your goal of eating healthier or just make you feel good for 20 minutes. Become aware of how different foods make you feel.
Does it make you feel good? Does it give you energy? Does it make you feel bloated? Does it make you drowsy?
Give it a whirl, you just might surprise yourself.
Here’s to new happy, healthy eating habits!